Accountability at the U.S.-Africa Summit

Published at Lawfare Institute

The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will be held next week, more than eight years after the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit was held in Washington, D.C., in August 2014 under the Obama administration. During the Trump administration, no such summit was organized. The Biden administration aims to revive this forum from Dec. 13 to 15 with an expanded list of “shared values,” including peace, security, good governance, democracy, human rights, and civil society. 

This summit comes at a time when several wars in Africa—including one of the world’s deadliest in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the protracted conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo—have culminated in preventable mass atrocities, including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Between the 1990s to 2000s, about two-thirds of African countries transited to free or partially free democracies. In 2013, close to 69 percent of Africans still supported democratic governance, and over 75 percent of the African population rejected military, one-party, or one-person rule. After having shown significant generational progression in the past three decades, hard-earned gains of democratic dispensation and constitutionalism have come under attack on the African continent, trampled by several military coups and embattled autocrats with limitless authoritarian terms of office. 

Nonetheless, leaders accused of atrocity crimes and despots who have flouted constitutional restraints are still invited to Washington, D.C. For the autocrats accused of war crimes, there is no greater diplomatic prize than a fancy photo opportunity at the U.S.-Africa summit and the White House.

The sustainability of the U.S.-Africa partnership eventually depends on whether the summit puts the rights, aspirations, and dignity of the people of Africa—particularly the youth—at the center of deliberations. For young generations in Africa, values such as democratic accountability are integral to national security interests, inseparable from human security, and crucial for economic progress.

Despots and war criminals are enemies of the aspiration of the people and, thus, cannot be allies of such partnership for democracy and accountability. 

In light of all the ongoing wars and atrocities, and the rise of authoritarianism, the Biden administration should rescind its invitation to autocrats accused of war crimes and press for accountability—both legal and political—as the core agenda of the summit.

The invitation of autocrats to the U.S.-Africa summit signals the rehabilitation and reintegration of even those accused of atrocity crimes into the international community. It conveys the wrong message that the U.S. tolerates the use of intentional mass starvation, widespread rape and sexual violence, ethnic cleansing, and mass atrocities against certain ethnic groups.

Read More: